V.com weekend vote: What are your favorite kinds of music-related books?

May 16, 2022, 12:30 AM · Last week Diana Skinner wrote a review about a new book written by the classical pianist, Jeremy Denk, called Every Good Boy Does Fine. I also read this excellent book, and it reminded me of how enjoyable it can be, to read about the lives and thoughts of other classical musicians.

violin book

I have an entire book shelf devoted to books about music, with everything from history books, theory books, books on music criticism, pedagogy books, biographies, non-fictional stories, not to mention a few that I might classify as "historical fiction-romance" (such as Vivaldi's Virgins by Barbara Quick - which I enjoyed quite a lot!) and even a murder mystery! (The Rainaldi Quartet by Paul Adam.) And I'll add that I've written a few, with the Violinist.com Interviews Vol. 1 and Vol. 2.

These books, of course, are completely separate from my wall of sheet music!

I'm interested in what music-related books (not sheet music) that people have on their shelves, and which of them they enjoy reading the most. Please participate in the vote, picking what feels like your favorite kind of book right now, even if you have more than one answer. Then tell us, what are your favorite music-related books? What book are you reading now, or did you read most recently? What do you find most rewarding about reading about music, musicians or musical history? And feel free to mention, if you have written a book yourself.

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May 16, 2022 at 06:16 AM · Most of my music books are technical - about how the music is put together, how it 'works'. favourite authors include (showing my age) Robert Simpson on Beethoven and others, Basil Lam (on Beethoven), Hans Keller on Mozart etc. Featured composers - Beethoven, Mozart, Nielsen, Bruckner. I find Beethoven and Mozart endlessly fascinating.

I also have a few books by psychologists, sound healers (particularly Jonathan Goldman) and on the spiritual/esoteric aspects of music, including Hazrat Inyat Kahn's 'The Music of Life'.

No biographies....... or specifically violin-related books.

May 16, 2022 at 06:44 AM · Arnold Steinhardt's musings on quartet life and the violin are fantastic reads.

More recently, I completed my collection of the out-of-print "The Way They Play" interview series by Samuel and Sada Applebaum, the parents of violist Michael Tree. It's a fascinating look at many artists of the 20th century, including a number whose names don't regularly pop up online.

May 16, 2022 at 07:28 AM · It is sometimes claimed that F Scott Fitzgerald and Jane Austen wrote wonderfully about music. While agreeing that they wrote wonderfully, I feel that neither has much of a clue about music. Austen waffles about 'good taste' while dealing with amateur drawing room music that has almost totally vanished: Fitzgerald somehow sees 'a pitfull of viols and oboes' in a jazz band. Perhaps the moonshine was clouding his vision.

However, I keep novels that have something significant to say about music among my music books. These include: James Hamilton-Paterson 'Gerontius', Louis de Bernières 'Captain Corelli's Mandolin' and Vikram Seth 'An Equal Music'. Thomas Mann is also to be found among the music books, particularly 'The Magic Mountain' and 'Doctor Faustus'.

May 16, 2022 at 11:56 AM · An interview-style book I truly loved was "Absolutely on Music: Conversations with Seiji Ozawa" by Haruki Murakami. And while I voted for "biographies, autobiographies, interviews," a few others that I've really enjoyed across the years include: "Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain" by Oliver Sacks (nonfiction), "Bel Canto" by Ann Patchett (fiction), "And After the Fire" by Lauren Belfer (historical fiction), and "Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven" by John Eliot Gardiner (nonfiction).

May 16, 2022 at 02:52 PM · Wonderful pedagogy/playing books: William Westney the Perfect Wrong Note, Cornelia Watkins Rosindust: Teaching, Learning and Life from a Cellist's Perspective, Robert Gerle The Art of Practicing the Violin, Robert Gerle The Art of Bowing Practice.

May 16, 2022 at 03:53 PM · I could have checked several of the boxes! I agree with Gene Wie--I own and have read many times Arnold Steinhardt's books. I read many types of books from my local library's small music section. The one I read most recently that has stayed with me was a novel about a member of a string quartet in London who fell in love with a pianist who was going deaf. I forget the title. I'd also like to do a shout out for "Violin Maker", about Sam Zygmuntowicsz, written by John Marchese. After it borrowing it twice from the library, I bought my own copy.

May 16, 2022 at 04:29 PM · Thank you, Laurie, for suggesting I put the following in this discussion thread.

I just got a book published. It is entitled "71 KEYS TO GETTING BETTER GRADES EASIER AND IN LESS TIME." I wrote it and Ellen (one of my daughters, a professional author and illustrator) designed the cover and prepared the book for publication.

While it is not specifically about music, it covers several motivational and study skills strategies that certainly are adaptable to music education. And, it ain't expensive, either as a soft-cover book or an e-book.

It is available either as an ebook or a physical copy at:


May 16, 2022 at 04:39 PM · The Aubrey-Maturin novels have a lot of amusing descriptions about the experience of playing music.

May 16, 2022 at 04:58 PM · Francesca... the string quartet novel is “An Equal Music”, which I mentioned above. I hope this helps you to find it again; it’s worth rereading. Diana... “Music in the Castle of Heaven” is superb! I have just ordered James Runcie “The Great Passion”, a fictional story narrated by a former pupil of J.S. Bach’s at St. Thomas School in Leipzig. I hope it arrives this week.

May 16, 2022 at 05:38 PM · Everyone, please include the names of books - maybe we can make a nice long summer reading list, once this vote is complete!

May 16, 2022 at 05:42 PM · Famous violinists and fine violins by TL Phipson, great book written around 1860

May 16, 2022 at 06:34 PM · I haven't read many, but I should mention one fiction book I read: Leo Tolstoy's "The Kreutzer Sonata". I also read Sitwell's biography of Liszt, Abraham's books on Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov, Slezac's "Song of Motley", my father's "Ambitious Amateurs" and "String Teaching on a Shoestring" (His use of rosin on slipping pegs has probably been superseded by Laurie's combination of soap and talcum), Applebaum's "With the Masters", and Christopher Seaman's "Inside Conducting" (a good read). But these days, there's so much online, I'd have to have a special reason to go and borrow/buy a book.

May 16, 2022 at 11:18 PM · I also loved "An Equal Music," Richard & Francesca! And I just noticed Natalie Mariano noted another book in a comment on the stolen violin bog. She writes: "Min Kim's memoir "Gone: A Girl, a Violin, a Life Unstrung" is a moving, heart-rending story of a gifted young violinist whose Strad was stolen at the height of her promising career."

May 17, 2022 at 12:25 AM · Love pedagogy books and definitely will look up some of these mentioned. The latest book that I read that absolutely captivated me was Jeremy Denk’s Every Good Boy Does Fine. Was a great read!

May 17, 2022 at 02:23 AM · @Richard Pairaudeau, thanks very much! The fact that it was written by Vikram Seth is probably how I stumbled across it. I'll put it on my online book list so that I don't forget it.

May 18, 2022 at 03:46 AM · Richard, I have to respectfully disagree with your saying that Jane Austen didn't have much of a clue about music. For one thing, Jane Austen practiced the piano daily before writing, and I think the scores she copied out are still available. So her comments on taste have some context.

(Also, I think she says a bit more than just good taste. I recall in Pride and Prejudice that Georgiana Darcy is praised by her brother for practicing 'very constantly', while Elizabeth self-deprecatingly admit that she doesn't. Mary is a bad performer because her vanity gets in the way of the music being enjoyed, such that Elizabeth, who is not a better player, is listened to with more enjoyment.)

Also, in Austen's day, there was far less of a demarcation between drawing-room music and professional performance. So the assumption that they were amateurs may not be correct.

I learned that this demarcation was not so strong especially after reading 'Play It Again' by Alan Rusbridger. It is about a former Guardian editor, an amateur pianist, who learned Chopin's Ballade. In his interviews with veteran pianists, he discovered that the home performance was so integral that a modern listener may judge old recordings as being flawed and less polished, even though played by respected pianists.

May 18, 2022 at 06:29 AM · Deborah, thanks for your full and interesting answer! You are definitely right about the way in which Austen uses what might be called 'musical behaviour' as a way of creating and reinforcing characterization. Mary Crawford's fashionable harp, and her insistence on hiring a farm cart to deliver it at the wrong time of year (in 'Mansfield Park') is another example of music used novelistically with great subtlety.

I am ashamed to say that I haven't read Alan Rusbridger 'Play it Again', despite owning a copy. Your mention of it rang a bell, and I found the book hidden away behind a pile of string quartet CDs. Accept my apologies and believe that I shall reread two Jane Austen novels and 'Play it Again' as a happy penance!

May 19, 2022 at 01:00 PM · Oh no problem at all, Richard! I really enjoyed 'Play It Again', it's got great wisdom on musical practice and teaching which can apply to any instrument.

To answer the general question, I am mad about music books, though I shamefully have not read enough. I especially like biographies of medieval and Baroque composers. I have 'Music in the Castle of Heaven', which I have not yet read! So pleased to see others recommend this.

I collect Bach biographies and research, so I also have The New Bach Reader, Andrew Gant's biography of Bach, Charles Sanford Terry's analysis of Bach's music, a German pseudo-novel about Bach's visit to Buxtehude (which I can hardly read), and an even more indecipherable mini biography of Bach's life and influence written in Russian.

I have Louis Kentner's Piano (Kentner is mentioned repeatedly in 'Play It Again'), an excellent old Penguin Book on keyboard music, two music theory books, and many scores (mostly piano).

As I love medieval music and languages, I have Guillaume de Machaut's Le Livre Du Voir Dit, complete with Rondeaux and Ballades in the original old French. I would love to get more biographical information on De Machaut and other medieval composers, but they are difficult to find in the UK.

However, one of the most incredible music books I have delved into is Julie Ann Sadie's Companion to Baroque Music. What a goldmine! Historical overviews of the Baroque in numerous countries plus glorious mini biographies of every Baroque composer imaginable. That reminds me to borrow this from the library again.

May 19, 2022 at 07:10 PM · You have a range of beautiful interests, Deborah. I will try to track down a second-hand copy of Julie Ann Sadie’s Companion, on the strength of your recommendation!

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